Facing opposition to his plan to turn the historic Mar-a-Lago mansion into a "super luxurious club and health spa," Trump tried shaming the town council in Palm Beach, Fla., which he accused of coddling other clubs that discriminated against Jews and African Americans. His strategy included sending copies of "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" — about a young, white woman introducing her black fiance to her parents — to council members.
This is a well-known anecdote, mentioned in presidential election coverage by The Washington Post and New York Times, among other publications. But it is worth revisiting as Trump takes criticism for that now-infamous Star of David tweet and — ironically — for anti-Semitism directed at real Jewish journalists by some of his supporters.
Defenders of the presumptive GOP nominee have cited the Mar-a-Lago feud as clear proof that Trump is not a bigot.
"When you had a group of liberal elites down in Palm Beach that were deciding to be racist and anti-Semitic, it was Donald Trump that came to the rescue and said, 'I will fight tooth and nail for everybody to be a part of the club that I want to be down here,'" Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said on CNN last week.
Trump certainly fought tooth and nail. But contemporary media accounts depict him as a crusader for his own business interests, not for racial and religious equality.
The real estate mogul's quarrel with Palm Beach officials began when he originally proposed converting the 16-acre Mar-a-Lago estate into a subdivision. Rejected, he publicly ripped the council as "gutless" and sued the town.
"From the day I bought this home, it was always my intention to subdivide this property," he said in April 1992, according to the Miami Herald. "Why should I be forced to maintain Mar-a-Lago for the town of Palm Beach? Why should I be forced to pay taxes on something I can't use?"
Less than a year later, Trump sued the town again — this time because he believed the assessment (and therefore the property tax) on Mar-a-Lago was too high.
And when Trump shifted gears and decided to pitch the private club, his disputes with Palm Beach centered on things like the number of memberships he could sell and the size of the parking lot. The council also made sure to explicitly prohibit Trump from ever hosting a circus on the grounds. Apparently this is something Mar-a-Lago's original owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post, once did, and local officials wanted to prevent a repeat event.
Anyway, inclusiveness was not a central theme of Trump's argument.
That's not to say he wasn't sincere about wanting Mar-a-Lago to be open to people of all races and religions; it's simply to say that Trump called attention to unfair treatment of a fictional journalist when he thought it would improve his negotiating position, yet he has not stood up for the real-life Jewish reporters targeted by some of his backers. Trump's message seems to evolve to suit his needs.
There is no better evidence of Trump's evolution than what he told the Palm Beach Post upon receiving council approval for the club at Mar-a-Lago in 1993. Just 13 months after saying it was always his intention to knock down the mansion and subdivide the property, Trump said this: "Beyond anything else, I want the long-term preservation of Mar-a-Lago. I want to make sure over the next 100 years it will be here, sound and safe."